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Thursday, July 2, 1998 Published at 11:44 GMT 12:44 UK


Whistle sounds better second time around

Lloyd-Webber with Starlight Express cast: Will Whistle follow in its tracks?

It was a flop when it opened in America, but there is still hope for Andrew Lloyd Webber's newest musical Whistle Down the Wind.

The show, which opened on Wednesday in London's West End, won rapturous applause, which only died down when the audience's hands were filled with glasses of champagne.

[ image:  ]
Speaking earlier about the 2.2m project which was co-written with Grammy award-winning songwriter Jim Steinman, Lord Lloyd-Webber said: "I just want to really bring it off."

First night nerves were evident however. Lord Lloyd Webber, formerly plain old Sir Andrew, confessing to being "petrified as ever".

A spokesman for the composer's Really Useful Company says the first few weeks have already sold out netting 3 million in advance sales.

Magic begins to wane?

For the past 25 years, Lloyd-Webber has seemed incapable of producing anything but smash hit musical shows.

Evita was followed by a string of hits such as Cats, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, The Phantom of the Opera and Starlight Express.

Cats, Phantom of the Opera and Starlight Express are still going strong in the West End.

But the composer's magic for musicals began to wane in 1993 when Sunset Boulevard lost money and a revival of Jesus Christ Superstar closed after suffering heavy losses.

[ image: Philip Schofield starring as Joseph in 1993]
Philip Schofield starring as Joseph in 1993
Worse was to come. Last year Whistle Down the Wind, directed by Harold Prince, closed in Washington DC without even reaching Broadway.

Washington Post critic Lloyd Rose said the talents of Lloyd-Webber and Steinman cancelled each other out. He described it as Lloyd-Webber's "weakest show".

Lord Lloyd-Webber paid 4 million to cancel the planned Broadway run in order to rework the show for the West End.

Whistle Down the Wind is a tale of seduction and mistaken identity. The original story, a book by Mary Hayley Bell - wife of Sir John Mills took place in England. But Lord Lloyd-Webber and his director, Australian Gale Edwards who worked on Aspects of Love and Jesus Christ Superstar, have transported the story to Louisiana. American actor Marcus Lovett plays The Man, an escaped convict mistaken for Jesus by a teenage girl, played by 15-year-old Lottie Mayor.

Lord Lloyd-Webber looks back on the history of Whistle Down the Wind
Lord Lloyd-Webber is fiercely defensive towards the show.

"I happen to think the score for Whistle is the strongest I've done, period," he said. "It's absolutely of its time and place, but with a much more contemporary slant."

Lovett, who spent 11 months in Phantom of the Opera in New York, said: "There is no other show like this around the West End or on Broadway."

The critics are a bit more cautious with praise. The music has been applauded as "electrifying" but the script has been called scrappy.

Still, Andrew Lloyd-Webber is said to have the Midas touch and there seems little doubt that Whistle sounds better the second time around.

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